With the debate on gun control and public safety taking center stage following the shooting rampage in San Bernardino, one California Republican congressional hopeful is not only supporting gun owner rights, he is giving handguns away to donors.
Johnny Tacherra, running against Democratic Rep. Jim Costa in the Central Valley, is holding a fundraiser billed as a "2nd Amendment BBQ" at Full Spectrum Firearms in Fresno next weekend.
Donors who give $2,700 to Tacherra's campaign will get either a 9 mm or a .40 Smith & Wesson M&P Shield handgun.
The fundraiser was planned before the deadly shooting that left 14 dead, but Tacherra's strategist Carl Fogliani said the campaign has no qualms about holding the event after the attack, which the FBI is investigating as an act of terrorism.
"Some people on the left want this to be about guns," Fogliani said. "I think there are other aspects: trying to focus on the refugee and visa issue and on security."
In fact, Tacherra has been making that point in his rematch against Costa. The Republican is calling for a blanket ban on immigrants coming into the U.S. from the Middle East.
In a Nov. 16 news release intended to criticize Costa on the issue of whether to allow refugees into the U.S., Tacherra suggested Congress should "place a moratorium" on immigration from "Middle Eastern nations" to "reduce possible terror infiltration and reduce pressure on our current security structure."
A few days later, Costa was among the Democrats who voted with Republicans to halt the program for Iraqi and Syrian refugees.
Tacherra, a third-generation dairy farmer, came close to ousting Costa in the 2014 race for the 16th House district, which covers parts of Fresno and Merced in the Central Valley.
The relatively unknown Republican pulled ahead on election night, but Costa ended up squeaking out a win by 1,334 votes that was not announced until Nov. 19.
Jon Raines, the owner of Full Spectrum Firearms, said donors who sponsor a table at the Tacherra event will get their free handgun after they pass necessary background checks.
Raines, who said he spent 20 years in law enforcement, said he appreciates Tacherra's strong support of the Second Amendment.
“The gun is an inanimate object, it’s a tool just like a hammer or a shovel or a car," he said. "It’s the evilness of the person wielding it that makes it good or bad. Their intent is what makes it what it is.
Back in the 31st congressional district where the attacks played out, territory represented by Democratic freshman Rep. Pete Aguilar, the 2016 campaign is playing out in a different way.
Aguilar's rival, Republican Paul Chabot, was friends with one of the victims, Michael Wetzel.
Chabot is asking his political supporters to donate money to Wetzel's family. They knew each other from the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at Cal State San Bernardino. Chabot was the chapter advisor for the fraternity in 1997 when Wetzel joined as a freshman.
"He liked leadership, he loved the fraternity, he was always eager to grow," Chabot said of his friend. "You couldn't say a bad thing about him."
Chabot, a father of four, cried during the phone interview.
"He has six kids. That is just devastating," he said. "During the holidays, it could not be anymore difficult."
Chabot said he has been attending vigils in San Bernardino since the shootings.
"I've seen these monsters on foreign soil and now they are here on the homeland," the military veteran said in the message to his supporters Wednesday. "I vow to fight every day to keep our families and children safe from senseless attacks like this."
The Aguilar-Chabot race is another rematch — Chabot lost in 2014 by 3 points.
Former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is scheduled to hold a book signing at a Los Angeles area gun club Saturday.
She will be promoting her new book, "Sweet Freedom: A Devotional," at the Oaktree Gun Club in Newhall, Calif.
A promoter for the event did not respond when asked if the event would go on.
Staff writer Christine Mai-Duc contributed to this report.
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